Walmart Cash Back Scam: For once, a scam that isn’t real.

Here at the Fraud Prevention Unit, I do my best to keep readers informed of the latest clear and present dangers—all those different types of fraud and identity theft that actually occur and that you should be wary of.

However, I also feel like it’s important to dispel the occasional false report of a scam. It takes enough mental energy watching out for the real deal; it’s a waste of time and energy to worry about rumors and hearsay.

That’s why today I’m bringing up a fake scam report that is still making its way around the Internet via email: the Walmart cash back scam.

There are a few variations, all circulated by hysterical emails with a thousand “Fw:’s” in the subject line. The alleged scam works like this:

  1. You pay for a purchase at Walmart with your credit or debit card, electing to only pay the exact amount of the purchase
  2. The cashier “orders” $20 or $40 cash back but doesn’t tell you
  3. The cashier either pockets the cash or passes it off to a friend who is in line behind you

The problem is, cashiers can’t order cash back on your purchase. There is only one way to do that—at the PIN pad, where the customer is the one pushing the buttons.

Now, those buttons are pretty close together, so it’s extremely possible to hit something other than “No” when the machine asks if you want cash back. If you thought you’d pressed the right button, and the cashier wasn’t expecting a cash back transaction (because you said “no” when they asked), it’s possible that neither party would notice the error. In other words, these occurrences were most likely due to a mistake on the customer’s part.

Of course, nobody ever wants to admit they messed up, so they write long screeds and email them to everyone they know. Is it a deliberate hoax? I don’t think so. I think somebody pressed the wrong button and didn’t catch it until later, and it never occurred to them that they might have erred.